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My unconscious rewrites movies
A good buddy is visiting me, and today we watched one of my favorite movies, Paths of Glory. In the last scene, which always makes me cry, a lot of rowdy French soldiers in a cabaret are treated to a captured German young woman, who is rudely put on the stage by a greasy impresario. She starts to sing an old German song, "Der Treue Husar", and the soldiers fall silent and then hum along.

I first saw the film about 40 years ago. When, owing to the marvel of electronics, I was able to buy it on a disk and watch it on my computer, I discovered that I had remembered that last scene wrongly: I had made it nastier. In my memory, the soldiers were in a German tavern, the woman was a waitress, and they handled her roughly, stood her up on a table, and demanded a song.

The tune stuck in my mind, and about 20 years after I first saw the movie, I happened to buy a record of German beer-hall songs that had a bit of that one on it, so I found out the title. That allowed me to post a query on the Mudcat, and a German looked it up for me & posted the text. He, too, remembered it from the movie.

I rewrote another favorite movie, Ikiru, far more drastically after a lapse of some years. In it, the hero, an ombudsman in a Japanese municipality whose real job is to give inconvenient complainers the runaround, learns that he is dying of cancer, and so he starts actually helping people, which of course makes him enemies, not only bureaucrats but gangsters, but he doesn't give a damn. When he dies at last, his officemates have a lugubrious memorial service and claim to be inspired by him, but when they get back to the office they return to their previous ways.

I forgot the name of the movie, and I summarized the plot in email to a friend who knows a lot about movies, to see if he could identify it. Sure enough, he told me the title, and eventually I looked it up & saw it again. It turned out I had entirely revised the ending, to accord with my taste in irony. In my version, the hero does not die; he has a remission & goes back to work, and of course now he has to go back to giving people the runaround. His recovery turns out to be a moral misfortune. I described this ending so vividly that it fooled my correspondent, who commented favorably on it! When I saw the real ending again, I was so incredulous that I inquired if there had been two versions; but it seems not.


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